Cape-Wide School enrollment drops 17.93%
Lower Cape drops are even greater at 19.12%
The Cape’s school districts have lost almost 18% of their students in the past decade, according to data obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
As Cape Cod’s student count dropped, schools have been forced to tighten their belts and now face increased competition from “school choice destination” districts, charter schools and vocational technical schools. See the chart on the right.
Cape Cod Today has reported on the increased climate of competition between some of the Cape’s public school districts. Clearly the districts least devastated by the population drop are those that have already stepped onto the competitive field.
The biggest winners in the struggle for enrollment are the Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis (106.5% increase), Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School (33.3%), Upper Cape Regional Vocational Tech (12.5%), and Cape Cod Tech in Harwich (10.88%). The Truro Central School grew 15.87% since 2001, a net increase of 20 students.
Nauset, Chatham and Harwich managed to minimize their losses with aggressive marketing as school choice “destination schools”. Chatham’s enrollment dropped by only 4.82%, while Harwich and Nauset both kept their losses below 15%.
Sandwich kept its losses to a modest 15.61%, one of the perks of operating one of the 500 best high schools in the United States. The competition on the Upper Cape should heat up now that Sandwich is wisely considering a $50,000 marketing campaign for Sandwich High School as a school choice destination.
Meanwhile, the four elementary schools in Brewster, Eastham, Orleans and Wellfleet ignored the school choice success of their Nauset middle/high school district and remained closed to school choice, with Brewster suffering a 28.84% loss while it remains hamstrung by the Eddy School build during a population surge years ago. Orleans and Eastham lost 22.75% and 26.92% respectively. Wellfleet grew by ten students. See the chart on the right.
Provincetown lost the most students – a 61.18% loss equal to 197 students. With numbers like that it’s a small wonder that Provincetown High School will soon close. Many anticipate the district’s total dissolution within the next few years.
Unpleasant Surprise in Orleans
While most school districts reduced their teacher ranks because of declining enrollment, Orleans’ taxpayers are in for a surprise. Orleans employed the full time equivalent (FTE) of 25.9 teachers in 2004 and employed 25.1 teachers in Fiscal 2011.
While most school districts reduced their teacher ranks because of declining enrollment, the taxpayers in Orleans are in for a surprise. Orleans employed the full time equivalent (FTE) of 25.9 teachers in 2004 and employed 25.1 teachers in Fiscal 2011. (School profiles show teacher counts only back to 2004.)
By comparison, Brewster’s elementary schools employed 39.1 teachers in Fiscal 2011, down from 59.6 in 2004 – a drop of the full time equivalent of 20 teachers.
Orleans Elementary is in a difficult place. Their enrollment is a bit too high to cut back to a single classroom for each grade level but balancing class sizes leaves two under-enrolled classrooms. Welcoming school choice students might ameliorate this situation, putting $5,000 checks on those empty desks now collecting dust.
Orleans Elementary School today enrolls approximately the same number of students as was lost by Brewster in the past ten years. One conjectures that, if Nauset were a PK-12 regional school district, Orleans Elementary could be closed and its students bused to Brewster. Something like this may be necessary when the day comes to replace OES’ aging physical plant – especially if Orleans’ citizens are faced with devastating tax increases to fund the sewer system so many seem hell-bent to construct.
The Smart Will Survive
Virtually every school district on Cape Cod is affected by the loss of almost 6,500 students. Indeed, everyone is eating from the same trough but the trough has 18% less food than it did a decade ago. This means some school districts must go hungry and others may starve.
Academic excellence, strong school choice marketing and smart leadership will determine which school districts will remain standing when the competition for students is decided.
Read the education series: